Garrett Sweeden

May 6, 2016

Communicating effectively is as important a design skill as understanding tasteful scale and proportion of space. As architects and designers, we fully grasp clear and concise graphic and written communication concepts through the use of detailed drawings and carefully worded specifications. What we often fail to do, however, is verbally communicate our ideas in a way that makes sense to the savviest of “design-speakers,” let alone to the average person who simply wants to learn more about architecture.

This became very clear to me after attending the recent Sacramento architectural styles seminar presented by William Burg and Garret Root for the Sacramento County Historical Society.  This event was refreshing to me because the subject was architecturally informative, but presented in a way more tailored to the general public rather than the architecture community. Being relatively new to the Sacramento region, I have made it a point to attend events like this so I can become more involved in the community.  I really enjoyed listening to how people felt about and related to the wide range of architectural styles of Sacramento.


Mid century Modern home in South Land Park / Photo Courtesy:

The exterior of the historic Governor's Mansion in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday September 6, 2006. Sacramento Bee/ Randall Benton

The Governor’s Mansion was built in the style of Second-Empire-Italianate Victorian in 1877 / Photo Courtesy:


Tudor Revival home in Land Park / Photo Courtesy:

While the majority of people don’t use architecture-specific terminology in their day-to-day life, almost anyone can describe features they like in a space and how the space makes them feel. The key is to be more approachable when we describe features of a design. We can’t assume everyone knows what a “cornice” is.

Even the most striking design solutions should be able to be broken down into simple, everyday language. In the case of the image below, the architect created very complex architectural forms, but the design concept was very simple. He wanted to create a space that represents a dragon rising up from the landscape.


Giant Interactive Corporate Headquarters, Shanghai / Photo Courtesy: Morphosis Architects

Like many design graduates and soon to-be-licensed architects, I sometimes forget I have learned a vast amount of knowledge in a short time. It can be very easy to talk at – rather than to – people during design discussions. I strive not only to create clean, modern and understandable architecture, but to also present my process in a way that those I design for are as passionate about the project as I am. Every building has a story to tell. From the most modest house to the most complex building, it is our job as architects and designers to tell “their” story in a manner that connects us with our audience…no matter who they are.

For additional reading:
Word Wars at Architect Magazine by William Richards
Death by Buzzwords at American Institute of Architects/Practicing Architecture by Scott Frank

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